25 JANUARY 1896, Page 29


REFERRING to the account of the wild-fowl on Holkham Lake, which appeared in the Spectator of January 18th, Kr. Francis Darwin writes from Arthington, in Yorkshire :— " At Walton, in the late Mr. Waterton's time, I often, in an evening, used to watch the birds congregating for their flight to their evening feeding-grounds, on the Humber and Lincoln- shire coast ; and I have wished, and almost hoped, to see the time when large areas of sea and country, such as the Wash and parts of the Lincolnshire coast, with the Cromarty Firth, in Scotland, should be made sanctuaries for wild-birds, in which they, as the deer in the forest sanctuaries now do, could feel themselves at rest from the sportsman, and where those who like to watch the birds in their usual natural state could see them."

Our correspondent's suggestion of creating a " reserve " on a given area of sea and adjacent coast, is a new one. The nearest approach to such a sanctuary is that inside the Chesil Beach, where both sides of thelagoon are the property of Lord Ilchester. There, in and below the swannery, immense numbers of fowl congregate and are left in peace, during the greater part of the winter, and though not so complete a " sanctuary " as the Holkham mere, where Lord Leicester has for many years refused to allow a shot to be fired, it is a concrete instance of the success attained by protecting a given area of sea-water. Great inlets, like the Wash and the Northern Firths, are less well suited for such "reserves " than inland lakes or land- locked harbours, partly because the fowl cannot obtain shelter from rough weather on such extensive tracts of sea, and also because, even in calm weather, their habits and appearance could scarcely be observed when the flocks are scattered over many thousands of acres. An ideal place for such a sanctuary would be the land-locked gulfs of Poole Harbour, where not only the diving and surface ducks, grebes, coots, cormorants, and occasional wild swans, would assemble in thousands in 'the winter months, if a truce could be proclaimed, but also the flocks of still less accessible shore-fowl, curlews, plover, redshanks, knots, and the like, might be observed on the shores as the ducks may now be observed on the inland lakes. Even these waders, the shyest of all shy fowl, learn to recognise a 44 sanctuary," and in one such reserve, suited for these birds, the writer has seen several species, such as the redshanks, snipe, and grey plover, usually unapproachable elsewhere, sleeping or resting within thirty yards of the furze-bush behind which he was concealed. Those who have seen the shore-fowl on the Eastern coasts, the knots, stints, plover, and curlew, rising literally in thousands, and drifting like dark clouds across the sands, but unapproachable either by the naturalist or the sportsman, will realise the interest and novelty of seeing them at close quarters.

A large area, whether of land or water, is a desirable but not a necessary condition for the establishment of a sanctuary.

Confidence in the friendliness of human beings, and not the absence of mankind, is what wild-fowl rely upon in selecting a home for the hours of daylight. The wholly wild ducks exhibit none of that natural preference for total seclusion which is instinctive even in coop-reared pheasants. The brain- power of the duck is very considerable,—greater probably than that of any other bird (except the goose) commonly domesti- cated. There is no reason to doubt that they gauge accurately the limits of danger and safety when passing from the open country to protected waters, and by a process of reasoning as quick as that of human beings, they adapt their behaviour to the treatment which their intelligence warns them to expect. At Monymusk, in Aberdeenshire, the home of Sir Francis Grant, numbers of wild-ducks used to take sanctuary on a pond adjoining the stables. Tho place was described by a writer as "a large duck-pond adjoining the stable square ; the ducks are not tame wild-ducks, but bond fide wild-ducks, wild wherever else they go, but tame the moment they settle on the pond. They swim up to be fed within a few feet of any one, evincing no fear. Outside the precincts of their pond they are as wild as the wildest duck can possibly be." Sir Francis Grant. in answer to a question addressed to him by Sir R. Payne-Galiwey, wrote of this wonderful " datkery ": —" Every word in the account is perfectly true; a gentleman is staying with me to-day who never saw the ducks in the stable square before. He saw about one hundred and fifty, and the coachman called them and fed them with oats. Last Sunday I fed them, and they came within the length of my walking-stick."

The park at Walton Hall, which Charles Waterton inclosed and protected, only covered two hundred and sixty acres ; the lake was large in proportion to the size of the park, containing twenty-four acres of water. But the modest limits of this park afforded complete and permanent sanctuary to most of the larger species of English birds, with the excep- tion of a few which do not care for woodland or inland districts, and to many, including a colony of cormorants, which are only occasional visitors to other inland waters. The gathering of fowl was retarded for some time because he shot the widgeon, not believing that these birds, which be knew were only winter visitors, would be likely to remember the hospitality offered, and to requite it by a second visit. When he discovered his mistake, and the use of the gun was inter- dicted, the widgeon not only came in numbers, but remained both by night and day, feeding on the grass of the park like geese. On one occasion he counted sixteen hundred and forty wild-duck on his lake, besides a flock of Canada geese, which came from a distance and enrolled themselves as part of its regular population. Though occasionally fired at when "out of bounds," they seldom lost any of their number. Wild-fowl, unlike game, gain almost complete immunity from this source of danger by confining their journeys to the hours of dusk and dawn, and their preservers have little to fear from human prowlers round the fold. Waterton's worst enemy was a fox, which climbed his 9 ft. wall by the aid of a pole left leaning against it. Rats and rabbits were the only other creatures banished from the park, and the latter only on account of their undue increase. The taste for maintaining near country houses some form of protected area, in which birds and animals may multiply unmolested, is already partly established. The gun is now banished from moat country gardens, and here the wood- pigeon, magpie, and other large birds have accepted a year- long sanctuary and show themselves without fear, where formerly they only ventured to appear in the nesting-season. The increase so obtained in the numbers of wild birds and animals has struck others who desire to preserve these on the largest scale, mainly with the very opposite view of securing great numbers at certain times for the purposes of sport. In this case a "single and mighty Nimrod" often creates a semi-sanctuary which offers the opportunities to the naturalist which our corrrespondent desires. The system has been extended from the deer-forests of Scotland to the preserves of Norfolk. At Sandringham the Prince of Wales has created a " partridge sanctuary," set with protecting plantations and sown with agreeable seed-plants. At Merton, in Norfolk, the number and variety of the fowl on the two meres owned by Lord Walsingham is a remarkable re- sult of partial sanctuary ; the list of birds either seen or shot in one day at the end of the season includes snipe, wood- cock, teal, herons, gadwall, pochards, golden-eyes, swans, coots, moorhens, tufted duck, pintail, widgeon, shoveller., water-rails, gulls, kingfishers, and a sand-grouse. But it is in the economy of the " decoys " that the nearest approach to the establishment of sanctuaries on a large scale is now seen.

Sir Thomas Browne was right when he attributed the abundance of wild-fowl in Norfolk to the " very many decoys, especially between Norwich and the sea." " It may seem strange," writes Mr. Stevenson, the author of " The Birds of Norfolk," "to speak of the decoy, perhaps the most deadly engine ever invented for the purpose of luring wild.

fowl to their destruction, as being favourable to their abundance ; but it is strictly in accordance with fact. The great attraction of the decoy pond is its absolute seclusion ; here, the fowl which return in the morning from their nocturnal feeding-grounds find perfect rest, and pass their time peacefully, in happy unconsciousness of the destruction which may be going on within a few yards of them." Decoys are being revived both in Norfolk and Suffolk. The main requirement for success is proximity to the coast, and absolute quiet, with, if possible, a thick plantation round the pool. The conditions which attract fowl to the decoy, would serve equally to establish a sanctuary in any of the home counties, or near any part of the coast. Even the neighbourhood of salt - water is not indispensable; there is one decoy working in the central Midlands. But the sites for the future establishment of sanctuaries for wild animals as well as for wild birds are to be found in the national forests. At the beginning of the next reign the terms on which these are held by the State will once more be arranged with the Crown. The " sporting rights" should be secured, and their administration placed in the hands of practical naturalists. In Woolmer Forest there is a pool and marsh, in which the wild-fowl are now shot annually by the officers of the Royal Engineers at Aldershot (the forest being leased to the War Office), which seems designed by nature as the site of the first national experiment in this direction.